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Why Mitropa has taken so long

18 Jun

I was talking to a woman at a concert about the extraordinary American singer-songwriter, Neko Case. I said, her voice on record is my benchmark, the definition of bell-like precision with passion. The woman laughed and said, to her, Neko represents the ultimate raw, one-take beauty-in-imperfection voice. We laughed. Our visions of this artist, and her great gift to music, were so different.

This difference cuts to the very heart of why my second Wasp Summer record has taken 3 ½ years and counting. I’ve sat on the bass and drum tracks we recorded in February 2015, sporadically adding guitars, organs, sounds and harmonies, revising the production notes. Not including recovering from depression, breakups, financial issues and the dissolution of the band itself, the thing I have been stalling on was recording the vocals.

Wasp Summer Recording - 3 (1)

I have lived with this set of songs for so long. The oldest song, Lights On Eyes Open, dates to 2005, and the rest between 2010 and 2015. Perhaps surprisingly, they still thrill me. I feel I captured what I wanted to say on each track and that it’s a cohesive album.

It’s the responsibility of transmitting the soul of each song in the most direct, most emotionally available manner that has been the mental block for me. Unlike the ephemerality of live performance, the permanence of the album vocals became terrifying.

As I recorded at home, in my safest space, I loved the takes I got, but as I listened back, my fear kicked in. An unstoppable internal critic picked apart every phrase for pitching errors, inauthenticity, hollowness, inadequacy. The reference songs I used to guide the mood of each take (mainly Cocteau Twins, Pretenders, Motels, Fleetwood Mac, Mirah, Kate Bush, Linda Ronstadt, PJ Harvey, Triffids and Divinyls) became towering and inaccessible.

I tried editing together ‘perfect’ vocals from the various takes I recorded. Something I have tried twice before. The result is always the same, a dead-sounding vocal line. I rerecorded them over and over. I tried different microphones. I reminded myself to be kind. I left the songs alone for a year. Nothing made me comfortable with leaving these vocals to posterity. I stopped talking about the record. Despaired.

I feel ashamed of this fear and delay. I’m strong psychologically. I finish what I start. Don’t I? This is my novel, my movie, my creative heart. I’m a trained singer. I’ve been doing this for 27 years. They’re my damn songs. I don’t know if this is common. I’ve hear about a million different approaches, including the singer of a famous German band who happily plays to 20,000 people a night but needs everyone to leave the studio when he records vocals.

My heart says be one-take Neko. My head says be bell-like, perfect Neko, and a relentless perfectionist, and when will you ever get there?

Earlier this year, a friend, and the engineer who recorded the original bass and drum tracks, asked me what was happening with the record. I told him I was stalled on the vocals, and couldn’t get perspective on them. I said I needed to save some money, hire a nice mic or find a producer to help me get good takes and finish the record. I told him I wanted someone to tell me if it was good and honest, or if they thought I could dig a bit deeper. I just wanted some support. It’s hard work finishing a record alone.

He offered a lifeline. I help him with vocals and backing vocals on his record in exchange for him recording mine and acting as producer, talking me through the rest of the recording. So far, we’ve done two songs, and I’ve revised the entire album, replacing or adding guitars, sounds and keys.

I’m still excited by the songs, and although the urge to pick apart my vocals is still there, I like the energy of the takes we’ve done. We’ve found the microphone combination I’ll use for the whole record – a Neumann condenser and an AKG pencil mic. Check out those beauties!
Two vocal recording microphones - an AKG pencil mic and a Neumann condenser.We’re going for no more than three takes of each track, and I’m hoping the relaxed and supportive atmosphere will still my devilish urge to rip my own singing to shreds.

I feel confident that I’ll both actually finish this record this year and have the money to mix, master and release it. Finally. I’d really, really like to have my albums available on vinyl.

Would you buy vinyl through a pre-order campaign on bandcamp? Would you prefer a CD or download?

I’d really appreciate if readers who can support me could let me know which format they’re likely to choose. It takes some logistical planning and timing to put an album release together and deliver by the due date.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear from you.

– Samantha, Berlin.

Mitropa, Mitropa

26 May

The new Wasp Summer album cometh

In February, Simon and I started recording the second Wasp Summer album. In previous letters, you read about Wasp Summer’s history, so you know that this is our first album as a band. The name Mitropa comes from a railway company that ran sleeping and dining cars across Central Europe from 1916-1994.

The new songs are muscular and outward-looking. Living and touring in Mitteleuropa has definitely influenced the themes and the tempo of the songs. Imagine long journeys through the night between one mysterious metropolis and another. That’s what this album will sound like.

We recorded over three days at Pebble Music’s studio in the old DDR Rundfunk Buildings in Köpenick, working with drummer Romain who plays with Elyas Khan and the 17 Hippies.

Go here to Soundcloud if you want an idea of what the new songs sound like.

See you at a show. If you want to chat, Wasp Summer is on Twitter or Facebook.
Cheers,
Samantha

Inspiration from The Wasp Woman

18 May

On this, Eurovison Final Day, my vegetables and flowers are healthy on the balcony, someone is playing Debussy figures downstairs in the music school and my head is a-whirl with plans.

My friend (and soon to be collaborator in an Alt.Country musical) Jason, found this fantastic movie poster for my birthday. The Wasp Woman is a Roger Corman B-Movie from 1959 about a cosmetics mogul and badass who takes wasp royal jelly serum to become fabulously youthful.
Let’s overlook the gaping scientific flaws in the film’s premise and the thematic rip from The Fly, but when I saw this, I felt fabulously badass too.

It’s good timing because I’m working on the production notes for some new full-band recordings. Next month, we get to test out some cool DDR microphones in a new studio set-up. If the collaboration works, we’ll be making the new WS album as my annual Winter Project.

I often use visual inspiration to help me set the stylistic tone for a new project. The Wasp Woman‘s noir-ish colour scheme, melodrama, feminine force and, of course, the overt wasp theme, is a helpful focus point while I work on the sounds I want on guitar and from Simon’s bass and Stu’s drums.

Storyboard for 'Close as a Slow Dance'My first record, Close as a Slow Dance, was deep pomegranate, black and dusky earthen colours. Perfectly appropriate for the alt.country folk on the disk.

I’ll take down the old album’s collage storyboards on my wall and start making new ones while I work on the sounds I want on guitar and from Simon’s bass and Stu’s drums – more fuzz, more muscle, more groove. You can hear my home demo for new song Burning here to give you an idea.

While the Summer looks incredibly busy, Autumn and Winter are going to be digging-in time writing the rest of the songs that will make up the album, playing more with the band and finally learning more German.
Enjoy the melodrama of Eurovision and hopefully we’ll meet in a smoky basement somewhere and share some new songs.

Cheers,
Sam Wasp Summer

You and I, we’re as close as a slow dance

3 May

Dearhearts,

I am finally here. At this moment. It feels a little like taking acid because I’ve wanted it so long that it’s become quietly surreal. It’s unimportant why it took so long, just that it’s done. I’m really happy about it.

After a year of dreaming about sounds and visual inspiration, mixing, discussing the artwork on Skype, researching online sales options and various phonecalls to the pressing plant; after failing to find out why GEMA (Germany’s APRA) wants to charge me to make my own record; after all the fun bits – recording in Italy, the photoshoot, the production notes and songwriting, my lovely rootsy songs, products of my work since 2002, are finally in shareable form. I would describe it as Alt.Country Folk and will say that it was inspired by Martha Wainwright, Neko Case, Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson amongst others.

Tomorrow, my first solo album ‘Close as a Slow Dance’ (through A Headful of Bees) goes live into the world on CD Baby and Bandcamp with pretty digipack CDs to follow next week.

 

Please, have a listen to the album on Soundcloud, share with friends, buy it if you haven’t already pre-ordered (IndieGoGo funders, rejoice – they come, and with it, further gifts!). Curiously, ‘gift’ auf Deutsch means ‘poison’, but no poison here.

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THANK YOUS
There are many, many people to thank for inspiring, working on or funding ‘Close as a Slow Dance’. Some to start, Mark Steiner for the connections and confidence, Henry Hugo for his production, thoughtful arrangements, contacts and generosity, Marcelo and Toto in Buenos Aires for the final sound, Mum for her good wishes, support and rent assistance, Damian Stephens (design), Jan Bechberger (photos) and Elizabeth Delfs (styling) for the lovely artwork you’re seeing, Susanne at Interdisc who shows such care for her clients’ CDs, Sascha, Dam, Justin and Darren for inspiring the songs, Michelle, Nicho, Chez, Naz and Lena – my Council of Ladies who always counsel courage, and those who, knowingly or not, gave a well-timed wise word to inspire this album – David Creese, Julitha Ryan, Sean Simmons and Bron Henderson, Andreas Lautwein, Cameron Wilson, Eric Eckhart, Matthew Barker, Ola Karlsson, Ben Revi, Jen Hval, Sean M. Whelan, Emilie Zoey Baker and Guy Dale. And the musicians who were so kind and surprised me with what the songs could be: Fabio Gallarati, Stefano Caldonazzo, Paolo Zangara, Vicki Brown, Henry Hugo, Leigh Ivin and Julitha Ryan.

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SHOWS
I’m doing two album launches, a club show at Heroes in Neukölln on International Star Wars Day – Friday May the Fourth – and a special Sofa Salon house concert/birthday fest at my place on Friday 11 May. Email berlinsofasalon [aet] gmail.com for reservations.

Plus I’m doing house concerts and club gigs across Germany and France through late May and June and a whole heap of Summer gigs. If you would like to host me for a house concert, email waspsummer [aet] gmail.com. Those folk who bought Skype or House Concerts, I will be in touch in the next week or so.

Links:
Soundcloud (listen)
Bandcamp (buy)
waspsummer.com (info)

Pre-Order Thank Yous

20 Jan

Thank You from Wasp SummerThe Campaign

Wow! That was a heartening 55 days. In retrospect, it was probably madness to hold a fundraising campaign across Christmas and New Year, but I’m delighted to say you have helped me reach 62% funding for my project which covers the mixing and mastering costs. I thank you. I admit to being nervous about asking friends, fans, acquaintances and some complete strangers for money, but I was a train station busker for a year. I have no shame. I also figured I was offering a valuable and heartfelt exchange, Wasp Summer’s debut album ‘Close as a Slow Dance’ and the story of its strange and wonderful journey to you.

*Sam has a moment*

My god, I’m 36. I’ve been in bands for a million years. I am just about to send my first solo record into the world! Some of these songs are 10 years old and I’ve discovered I’m an Alt.Country writer, ably abetted by producer Henry Hugo and his vast array of stringed instruments. The album has a loose story-arc and is fairly writhing with dobro, banjo, mandolin, warm 60’s electric pianos and organs, 50’s Gretsch sounds and some lovely reverbs. Also, the comments people made on the funding website were so lovely and supportive, and probably my favourite part of the process. Yes, Willem, I do know where you live, and Aaron, it is new flesh but not in a Videodrome sense. As a kid, I did really want to be Debbie Harry, though.

The Stats

67% of funders came from Australia’s strong economy. 15% came from Germany. The rest of you come from Britain, America, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and New Zealand. The average donation was $37. As a group, you still love the artifact-in-hand experience of music and you’re not so into digital downloads. Maybe this is because I appeal to a more mature audience? #firstworldproblems

The Story of Los Savonarolas!

This is a story of saying yes. I told Mark Steiner my goal for 2011 was to make a record. He came to Berlin and asked me to play a show. There, I met his friend Henry who liked my music and offered to produce my record. I sent production notes and demos. He organised the band and the location. We set a date. Lots of yes. Gleefully, this entailed two long drives over the Gotthard Pass in the Swiss Alps – brown goats, brown cows with actual cowbells, improbable mountain hut placement. Amazing!

The band tracked via mobile studio over midsummer in a hilarious 5-day session at a house in Castiglione Olona, Italy, which we could use in exchange for feeding the owners’ 15 cats. Fifteen. Cats. I had the pleasure of playing, cooking, drinking and laughing with Fabio (guitars) and Stefano (drums) from Milanese band Guignol, plus Henry, and Paolo (bass) whose house we borrowed. Trying to play bluegrass at 5am is treasured memory. Also, learning to make pasta by hand and Henry’s Van Damme impressions. We dubbed the band Los Savonarolas after a scene in the 1985 Roberto Benigni/Massimo Troisi film Non ci resta che piangere!

 

The vocals and much of the arrangement were completed over two sessions in Zürich, Switzerland in August and September, because I messed up my voice in the first session after all the fun in Italy. Friends such as Vicki Brown in Tuscon, Leigh Ivin in Tamworth, Julitha Ryan in Melbourne and Mark Steiner in Oslo added violin, vocals, pedal steel, cello, organ and guitar parts via email.

The Fulfilment Stage

It’s now at the final mix stage in Buenos Aires and will soon go to the masterer, also in Buenos Aires. Sadly, I don’t get to go to Buenos Aires. In the next week, people who pre-ordered CD packs will get their digital EP download code via email. When I have the final master, people who pre-ordered pre-release digital downloads will get their download codes via email. Hopefully late February.

The CDs will then be made and popped into pretty digipacks in a secret factory somewhere in Europe. Then I’ll send out the signed CDs, scarves, chapbooks and start on the postcards, Skype concerts and one special London house concert. That should be the start of March. I’ll let you know if the production schedule slips behind.

Again, thank you for helping me realise this album. I am blessed to be at this point with an album of good music to share and a Summer of touring to look forward to. I just have to set some bigger goals. I hope to see you in your city in 2012.

Love,

Sam Wareing/Wasp Summer

Album Recording in Castiglione Olona

21 Sep

On August 11 2011, mt producer Henry Hugo and I drove over the Gotthard Pass from Switzerland into Italy. High Summer and perfect weather meant awesome visibility and pinch-yourself scenes of happy brown cows with bells, Audi drivers doing unsafe things on hairpin bends and incredible mountains.

Did I mention the BIG FUCK-OFF mountains? I’ve never been above 2000m on land before. We drove past the beautiful azure Vierwaldstätersee in Switzerland, passed the lazy border cops as we entered Lombardy and on around the spectacular Lago Maggiore. Our destination was the house of Paolo and Maria in Castiglione Olona. They hold house concerts, have 15 cats and kindly let us take over their house for a long weekend to record.

Us being:

The Producer, Henry Hugo. The Guitarist/Bassist/Chef, Fabio Gallarati and The Drummer Stefano Caldo from great Milanese band Guignol. We bonded very quickly over music, food, politics, movie quotes and Henry’s gun impression of Jean-Claude van Damme. “Yes. It’s me.”